Covid-19 Vaccine Hesitancy

Where is it coming from?

I spent a good chunk of last week talking with people about reasons why people are not taking the vaccines for Covid-19 despite the fact they’ve been proven safe, been proven effective, and are free. I have heard a number of excuses in person—perhaps the subject for another post. But those are all anecdotal stories, though evidence that such reasons exist. Well this weekend I found some quantitative data.

The source is the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), a group that focuses on health, health information and its communication. For Covid-19 they’ve been running quite a bit of information communication as one can imagine. One part of that? Public polling.

The latest survey covers the middle of June, but does include a question on why the unvaccinated remain unvaccinated.

Let’s start from the top, shall we?

I’ve got some quibbles with the design of the chart, primarily axis labels vs. a data label for every single bar, but I want to focus on the content today.

The vaccines is too new? I will grant you that it was developed very quickly. But there are two big reasons for that. First, to give the Trump administration credit where credit is due, whilst they didn’t really plan for a federal rollout of the vaccine they did eliminate much of the red tape and bureaucratic hassles that can slow down vaccine research. They did not, however, reduce the scientific rigour with which the vaccines were tested. Keep in mind that often times we heard stories of how the administration wanted to approve the drug well before it was ready. That is a sign that the testing wasn’t rushed.

Second, the mRNA method is new, but had been in advanced stages of research for a number of diseases including both influenza and zika. Scientists simply began to “reprogramme” the RNA bit to battle the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19. In other words, we had been researching the type of vaccines for decades, but we just found a new target for its first widespread application.

Worried about side effects? Fair question. Last numbers I specifically saw were something like fewer than 300 severe allergic reactions out of over 3,000,000 million doses of Pfizer. In other words, that was a 0.01% chance. If you get Covid-19, the mortality rate is somewhere between 1% and 5%. In other words, you’re far more likely to get sick or even get sick and die from Covid-19 than from the Covid-19 vaccine.

Just don’t want to get the vaccine? Well now you’re being selfish. Vaccines aren’t just about you. They are a public health and safety measure. If you get sick, you put others at risk. In 1905, we heard similar arguments for people not wanting to get the new smallpox vaccine. (A disease we’ve almost entirely eradicated thanks to vaccinations, go look up how devastating it was to populations pre-vaccine. I’ll wait.) But these people who didn’t want the smallpox vaccine took their argument of “it’s a personal choice” all the way to the Supreme Court.

They lost.

The Supreme Court decided that personal liberty does have limits and can be overruled by what we call the police power of the state, specifically when personal liberty risks public health and safety. Here’s a simlar example. I have the freedom to speak without being censored by the government. However, I cannot go into a crowded theatre and scream fire. Because at that point I am endangering the stampeding masses. The government has the right to limit my speech in that specific area.

There are lots of things we don’t want to do, but have to do. Getting vaccinated is one of those things.

Don’t trust the government? Well the vaccine wasn’t developed by the government. The three big ones in the United States are Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. For my UK audience, you’re also looking at Oxford-AstraZeneca. I believe it was Pfizer even rejected accepting development money from the US government specifically to ensure that its research remained above reproach. In other words, the government hired the scientists who conducted the tests that proved the vaccines were safe for use.

But, and this is the kicker, the vaccines first began to roll out to the public in December 2020. We now have seven months’ worth of evidence and data in real world scenarios. The vaccines consistently have been proven safe and effective.

Don’t think you need the vaccine? Well like I said above, the vaccine isn’t about just you, it’s about society at large. We have personal liberty, but social responsibility. And your choice to not get vaccinated threatens and endangers the lives of others. Because there are, and we’ll get to this, some people who cannot receive the vaccine even if they want to. And you not getting it, threatens them.

Don’t believe the Covid-19 vaccines are safe? We spent nearly six months studying them in clinical trials and they were proven safe. We now have an additional seven months of real world, in the shit testing. And they have been proven safe time after time after time.

Don’t trust vaccines in general? If you’re grandparents or great-grandparents are still alive, ask them about how deadly smallpox was. Or maybe ask your parents about how terrible the mumps were. Or measles. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Turns out they were pretty terrible. There was a reason that older generations generally rushed to get vaccines, because they protect us from the scourge of viruses and bacteria. I haven’t seen a person with smallpox in my entire life because vaccines all but eradicated the virus. (It exists only within the bio-weapon laboratories of the United States and the Russian Federation.)

Have a medical reason why they can’t receive the virus at this time? Great, I mean, not great, but this is a real reason why people cannot and should not receive the vaccine for Covid-19. And this is why we want everyone who doesn’t have a precluding reason to get the vaccine, so that we can help protect you. But hopefully you’ll be able to get vaccinated at some point in the future.

Too busy or have not had the time to get it? Well, it’s been several months and it’s increasingly hard to believe you don’t have a half-hour or an hour to spare. It took me a 15-minute walk and then walked through an empty, snaking line for about five minutes, then had the little prick in a minute, then waited 15 minutes. Then walked home. Did that twice in a matter of weeks.

But let’s say you’re working crazy hours. Well, that’s one reason the White House is asking employers to give employees paid time off to receive the vaccine.

Don’t like getting shots? Neither do I. I told that to the corpsman who administered my first shot and I simply looked away. I’d rather get two little pricks than risk needing to go to hospital or die or infecting someone else.

Worried about missing work? As I said above, it doesn’t take long. The actual processing is just a few minutes. You have to wait longer in observation to make sure you don’t have an allergic reaction. But also like I said, that’s why the White House is pushing employers to give their employees paid time off to receive the vaccine.

Difficult to travel to a vaccination site? This would have been especially hard in the early months when the goal was to equip mass vaccination sites in city centres that could serve the most people the most effectively and the most efficiently. Since then, most pharmacies and many doctors offices are offering the vaccine. There are a number of mobile vaccination sites around.

Check out Vaccines.gov: https://www.vaccines.gov/search/ It will help you locate where you can get your shots.

Not sure how or where to get your vaccine? Again, check out https://www.vaccines.gov/search/ and search for wherever you live.

Worried you will have to pay to get the vaccine? You don’t have to! The government is footing the bill for all of us. All you need to is show up with the required ID to prove you are who you say you are, wait your turn in line, get your shot, and wait for your observation period. Then, if you receive either Pfizer or Moderna, because you need two shots, you go back and present them with your vaccination card, and do it all over again.

But nowhere in that do you have to pay.

That was it for the reasons in the survey. But like I said, maybe I’ll address some of the other things in a post later this week.

Credit for the piece goes to the KFF graphics team.

The Freedom of the Press

By now you may have heard that this Thursday media outlets across the United, joined by some international outlets as well, have all published editorials about the importance of the freedom of the press and the dangers of the office of the President of the United States declaring unflattering but demonstrably true coverage “fake news”. And even more so, declaring journalists, especially those that are critical of the government, “enemies of the people”.

I have commented upon this in the past, so I will refrain from digressing too much, but the sort of open hostility towards objective reality from the president threatens the ability of a citizenry to engage in meaningful debates on public policy. Let us take the clearly controversial idea of gun control; it stirs passions on both sides of the debate. But, before we can have a debate on how much or how little to regulate guns we need to know the data on how many guns are out there, how many people own them, how many are used in crimes, in lethal crimes, are owned legally or illegally. That data, that verifiably true data exists. And it is upon those numbers we should be debating the best way to reduce the numbers of children massacred in American schools. But, this president and this administration, and certain elements of the citizenry refuse to acknowledge data and truth and instead invent their own. And in a world where 2+2=5, no longer 4, who is to say next that no, 2+2=6.

There are hundreds of editorials out there.

Read one from the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Chicago Tribune, the Guardian, and/or the New York Times.

But the one editorial board that started it is that of the Boston Globe. I was dreading how to tie this very important issue into my blog, which you all know tries to focus on data and design. As often as I stand upon my soap box, I try to keep this blog a little less soapy. Thankfully, the Globe incorporated data into their argument.

The end of their post concludes with a small interactive piece that presents survey data. It shows favourability and trustworthiness ratings for several media outlets broken out into their political leanings. The screenshot below is for the New York Times.

Clearly Republicans and Democrats view the Times differently
Clearly Republicans and Democrats view the Times differently

The design is simple and effective. The darker the red, the more people believe an outlet to be trustworthy and how favourably they view it.

But before wrapping up today’s post, I also want to share another bit from that same Boston Globe editorial. As some of you may know, George Orwell’s 1984 is one of my favourite books of all time. I watched part of a rambling speech by the president a few weeks ago and was struck at how similar his line was to a theme in that novel. I am glad the Globe caught it as well.

Credit for this piece goes to the Boston Globe design staff.

All Hail the Nurses and Working People

Let’s start this week with a quick hit on popularity and politics. It ties in nicely with the fact that my local congressman, a Republican, announced on Sunday he would not be seeking re-election in a very competitive district.

This piece in particular comes from the Economist and in terms of form, it is fairly simple. A scatter plot tackling the popularity of groups of people and specific politicians divided by whether the respondent is Republican or Democratic.

A nation divided…
A nation divided…

The reason I really like this scatter plot are the inclusion of the keys at the four corners. The split between Republicans and Democrats is fairly obvious and nicely coloured. But the little keys really help to clear up any confusion about what is happening as groups of people fall closer to one corner or another. The keys were a small and subtle, but very important design decision.

But what does it all mean? Well, as the headline says, we both rate favourably nurses and working people. Less so Congress and Mitch McConnell.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist’s graphics team.

Russia Tomorrow

In news that surprises absolutely nobody, Russia “re-elected” Vladimir Putin as president for another six-year term. The Economist recently looked at what they termed the Puteens, a generation of Russians born starting in 1999 who have no memory of a Russia pre-Vladimir Putin.

This piece features a set of interactive dot plots that capture survey results on a number of topics that are segmented by age. It attempts to capture the perspective of Puteens on a range of issues from their media diet to foreign policy outlook to civil rights.

The ideas of youth…
The ideas of youth…

The design is largely effective. The Puteen generation sticks out clearly as the bright red to the cool greys. And more importantly, when the dots would overlap they move vertically away from the line so users can clearly see all the dots. And on hover, all the dots of the same age cohort’s interest are highlighted. I think one area of improvement would have been to apply that same logic to the legend to allow the user to scroll through the whole dataset without always having to interact with the chart. But that is a minor bit on an otherwise really nice piece.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist’s graphics department.

Confidence in the US President

From those surveyed around the world.

The Pew Research Centre surveyed international respondents about their confidence in Donald Trump vs. Barack Obama. The Economist took those results and visualised them. And the results, well they kind of speak for themselves. But make sure to click through the link for the rest of the graphic.

That's a lot of declining values
That’s a lot of declining values

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist graphics department.

Two Tales of One City

Dickens is not my favourite, but that felt an appropriate title for today’s piece from the Washington Post on Chicago residents’ opinions on, well, Chicago. Turns out there is a notable demographic split on how residents feel about various things in the city.

Some of the issues
Some of the issues

Credit for the piece goes to Emily Badger.

When is Hummus Not Hummus?

The subject matter of this one interested me. I am new to hummus. Well, sort of. I never ate it before moving to Chicago. But when I did, I understood it to be essentially a dip made from chick peas. According to an article from Quartz, It turns out that’s what most Americans believe. Even if they’re not necessarily buying it. Literally (sort of). Because some popular brands contain no chick peas. (Disclosure: I work for the company that provided some of the market sizing data used in the piece.)

Kind of needs chickpeas.
Kind of needs chickpeas.

Credit for the piece goes to David Yanofsky.

Am I Your Type, Politically Speaking of Course?

Maybe? But thanks to Pew Research, you can see if we align politically. Today’s post comes via Pete, a coworker of mine, and it is basically a survey that works by asking you 23 political questions on topics from big/small government, immigration, climate change, gay rights, defence spending, &c. They crunch some numbers and spit you out on a results page, the image below a crop from the results for your humble author. (For better or worse revealing my political leanings.)

My type
My type

From a survey standpoint, I found it interesting the questions presented only binary responses. In general, I found that I never agreed with either statement entirely and was forced to choose the “closest” response. Since I never see myself on the conservative side of the spectrum, I was surprised to see my “type”, Young Outsiders, coloured with a tint of red. Regardless, I’m still thankful that according to Pew, I am still more in the centre than on the ends as it makes it a lot easier to compromise. I’ve heard that that is an adult thing to do.

By the way, if you want the results of the full survey upon which this quiz was based, you can check out that site here. It’s full of bar charts for those who like the data visualisation.

Credit for the piece goes to the Pew Research Center.

The New American Center

NBC News and Esquire magazine published results from their August survey of some 2000+ respondents that attempted to define the New American Center, i.e. the political persuasions of the majority of the country excepting the radical right and the loony left. For the purposes of Coffee Spoons, I am most interested in looking at the data visualisation and the infographics that result.

Both NBC News and Esquire visualised the results. While I could write two long blog posts looking at both of them, for today, it is more important to look more at the fundamental design difference between the two.

NBC News opted for a design direction emphasising data first. Perhaps because NBC is a news platform, their focus was on the clean communication of the data. Looking

NBC News results
NBC News results

On the other hand, Esquire opted for a more sensationalised direction. The same data points used for the screenshot above creates this graphic below. Not only is less data is contained, less context given, less subtlety and nuance captured, it also is just difficult to read. Is the 59% supposed to be the area of the cross filled in? Its length? Why is it three-dimensional? Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear? At first glance, I ignore the horizontal wings and focus solely on the vertical length of the main bar.

Esquire results
Esquire results

For a useful representation of data, I think NBC News clearly wins. But that both organisations used the same data to craft their separate results, this story on the New American Center is useful for comparing two different design directions and the results thereof.

No designers are specifically mentioned, at least not that I could find, so credit for each piece goes to its respective owner, i.e. NBC News or Esquire.

My/Your Dialect

Joshua Katz from North Carolina State University has created an interactive version of the dialect survey maps first perhaps popularised several years ago. Katz has also created an interactive map that looks at a city’s dialect and maps its areas of similarity and difference. An interesting extension of the original survey data, however, is the ability to take the survey yourself and see where your dialect fits. There are two versions, a 25-question survey and a 140-question survey.

The screenshot below is my result from the 25-question version. And it fits me fairly well since I spent most of my years in the suburbs of Philadelphia but every summer in South Jersey (and quite a bit of time in Allentown). Click the map to take the quiz for yourself. Feel free to reply and share your results.

Clearly I am Philadelphia raised
Clearly I am Philadelphia raised

From the technical side, for those wondering, this is a piece that is done in Shiny, the interactive version of R.

Credit for the piece goes to Joshua Katz.